Hired Girl -6-
by Erin Halfelven
Judith found Harold sitting on the bed, wearing just his boy underwear and the padded bra she had loaned him. The pink dress lay neatly beside him.
“Did you guys laugh at me about looking at The Rock?” he asked.
“What? No,” said Judith. “Honest, we didn’t laugh at all.” She grinned. “I think Mom only noticed you looking because she thinks he’s hot, too.”
Harold made a noise. He gestured at the dress lying on the bed. “I took it off,” he said.
“Yeah, you did. Does that mean you’ve changed your mind about doing this?”
“You didn’t tell me it was Jake who would be giving me a job,” he accused.
“Does it matter? I know he’ll hire you.”
“But I know him. If he recognizes me, he’s going to laugh.”
Judith sat down beside her brother and put an arm around his shoulders. “Mom didn’t laugh,” she pointed out.
Harold shrugged, leaning against her. “I’m afraid to do this. Someone will find out and it will turn into something horrible.”
“Like people laughing at you?” she asked.
“Look in the mirror,” she suggested. “Nobody’s going to be laughing at you.”
Harold looked at the girl in the mirror. “If they know who I am, they might.”
“Uh-uh,” said Judith, shaking her head. “Guys may step on their tongues, but they won’t laugh. And if they did, what do you care what amuses a moron?”
“It hurts,” said Harold in a small voice.
Judith pulled him into a hug. “Oh, baby. Have you been laughed at? Bullied at school?”
He nodded. “I didn’t tell you the whole truth.” He gestured at his chest. “This started months ago, uh, growing….” He stopped to swallow, looking down at the floor. “The guys in Gym all laughed at me. So… I… I… I forged a note from the doctor, and I didn’t go to P.E. for the last two months of the year.” He looked up at her after his confession.
Judith grinned. “You forged a fucking doctor’s note? For reals? I didn’t know you could be that sneaky. That’s great!”
“No, it’s not,” he protested. “If Mom or Dad found out….”
“Poof!” said Judith. “Talk to Aunt Rhoda about what she and Mom got up to when they were our age. Open your eyes, kid.” She grinned even wider. “And remember that Dad is a lawyer and a state legislator, for his sins. The shit he and his buddies get away with is small potatoes but your crimes don’t rate even a Pringles chip.”
Harold frowned at her.
“You got a cute frown,” she commented, kissing him on the nose.
Harold’s mouth twitched. “Is this really gonna work, Judith?”
“You betcha, if you want it to.”
Harold looked at the pink dress lying on the bed. “I’ll need more clothes.” He glanced down. “Underwear that fits.”
“Uh, huh. How much money do you have?”
“Some,” Harold admitted. In the family, he was famous for being tight with his cash and even tighter with info about it.
“Got a debit card?”
“Then we go shopping!”
He frowned again and Judith grinned at him. “I’m doing this to try to make money,” he pointed out, “not spend it. And I still don’t have a job yet.”
“All right,” Judith agreed. “First things first, we go down to Riverside and Jake hires both of us. Then you’ll know you have a job.”
“It’s after five,” he said.
“It’s a nightclub and restaurant in a hotel. They’re open. And it’s Thursday, so they’ll be thinking about filling weekend shifts. Good time to show up.”
Harold glanced at the dress again. The white lace bodice and cuffs caught his eye. The details had an endearing simplicity and he put a hand out to trace the shoulder seam.
“Up to you,” said Judith. “See if you can put it on and fasten it up in back by yourself—since you don’t have a boyfriend yet.”
Harold stood, rolling his eyes and making a sniff sound. The dress went on over his head and he zipped and fastened himself up as if he’d done it many times before.
“Voilà! Which is French for ‘Look at her!’” said Judith, standing also and clapping her hands.
“It is not,” said Harold. But he did look in the mirror to be sure he had everything straight.
“You’re smiling,” Judith pointed out.
“Because you’re stupid, ha,” said Harold.
They giggled at that.
“Okay,” said Judith. “So you want to be sure to have the job before spending anything on stuff you won’t need if you don’t have a job. You may look twelve without makeup, but did you know you have the soul of a forty-year-old accountant?”
“It just makes sense,” Harold protested.
“Since when has being a teenager been about making sense? So, okay, we’ll drive over to Riverside and Jake will hire you, and…. What the hell just happened?”
Harold’s face had gone pale. “Nothing,” he lied.
Judith who had been looking for her purse put both hands on his shoulders and turned him to face her. “Scared, huh? That’s okay. But Jake won’t bite.”
“I feel like a chew-toy already.”
Judith grinned. “Seriously. When have I ever been wrong?”
“Oh, brother! I didn’t know I was supposed to be keeping track!”
Judith bent her head down to rest her forehead on Harold’s. “I was right about Mom.”
“Yeah, well.” They both sighed.
“C’mon, sis. Neither of us is afraid of Jake, are we?”
Harold’s smile was a bit sickly.
“He’s only six-feet-two of ex-Bruin linebacker.” Judith teased.
“Second string, too slow to go pro,” Harold mentioned.
Judith grinned again. “Not too slow,” she drawled.
Harold made a face, “Arr. Like that helps.”
Judith took his arm, found her own purse and pointed out the handbag she had designated for Harold to carry. “C’mon. We hurry, we can get there before the end of Happy Hour.”
“Why would we want to?” Harold asked but snagged the pink leather bag and slipped the strap over his shoulder.
“Sometimes there’s a pause then,” Judith explained. “So Jake can talk to us. Watch your step,” she reminded him as they negotiated the stairs. Before getting into the aging Corolla, Judith visually rechecked all four tires. Not having been regularly driven on in nearly a year, she didn’t trust them not to leak but they all looked fine.
Taking Euclid to the 210 then across to the 15, down to the 60, they came up on Riverside from the west. Getting off at the Market St. exit, they skirted the golf course and headed downtown. The hotel/restaurant/nightclub was on Fifth Street at the north end of the mall known as the Main Street Promenade. The whole complex was the attempt of a medium-size inland city to compete with the glitz of the coastal and desert resort towns east and west of it. What it lacked in genuine glamor, it tried to make up for with optimism.
Harold had found a station and they listened to cool jazz on the way down while they talked.
“What happened to you and Jake?” Harold asked. “It looked pretty real for a while there.”
“California real,” said Judith. “I dunno. We both kind of cooled off when I got serious about school. Jake graduated, took the family job in the hotel business and I decided to try for a law degree.”
“Uh, huh,” said Harold.
“I had two more years to go at UCLA and Jake thought I was wasting time when I could be with him. We started fighting a lot.”
“Wow,” said Harold. “He stopped coming around when you moved to the dorms.”
“Uh, huh,” she said. “We still saw each other but I was busy with school during the week and he was busy learning his job on the weekends. Mostly we met somewhere on Sunday night and tried to argue each other into seeing the other’s point of view.”
“Must have…” Harold paused. “Must have hurt?”
Judith looked a little wistful. “We’d meet at some motel and eat prime rib at Appleby’s or something. Then we’d go to the room and screw till dawn.”
“Eww. TMI,” said Harold.
Judith looked at him sideways. “We thought it must be true love because the sex was so good.” She grinned. “We hadn’t had enough experience to know that sex is always good. It’s the other stuff that counts.”
That shut him up. He turned the visor down on his side of the car and looked at the girl’s face in the mirror for a bit, then put the visor back.
They drove through bedroom communities partially hidden by scrub-covered hills, past a few empty shopping centers and tired industrial parks. A tall sign announced a 22-screen theater concealed amidst the cottonwoods and manzanita bushes. The economic recovery seemed to have skipped over the western edge of Riverside.
“So, why are you going to get back together now?” he finally asked when they left the freeway.
She cut her eyes at him sideways again.
“Eww! Don’t tell me!” he protested.
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